Leadership and followership
Leadership and followership

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1 Challenges for modern leaders

The role of leader is not an easy one. They must juggle and prioritise many complex responsibilities, while continuing to support, motivate and represent their staff. While many leaders thrive on the variety, it can also be challenging.

Described image
Figure 1 There are many challenges for modern leaders.

Gentry et al. (2016) asked over 700 middle- and executive-level leaders from China, Egypt, India, Singapore, Spain, the UK and the US, ‘What are the three most critical leadership challenges you are currently facing?’.

Activity 1 Three most critical leadership challenges

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

What are the three most critical leadership challenges you or your leaders currently face? List them in the box below:

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Discussion

Did you choose challenges that predominantly involved interacting with your team? Did you look externally? Or did you focus on your own skill development needs? Read on below to find out the top six responses from the report.

The top six responses to Gentry’s question were:

  1. Developing managerial effectiveness, for example, time management, strategic thinking, decision making
  2. Inspiring others
  3. Developing employees
  4. Leading a team
  5. Guiding change
  6. Managing internal stakeholders and politics.

In response to these issues, they make several recommendations:

  • Goal-setting is important – be proactive in setting goals, and the timelines and deadlines required.
  • Delegate more – this can make you more productive and can also empower the people to whom you have given work.
  • Work on tasks that maximize your unique value-add – among all the organisational priorities, there will always be important tasks that only you can do. These are the tasks on which you should focus. As a result, you will maximize your specific value to the organisation. Everything else, try to delegate.
  • Gain some role clarity – understand what your work does and does not entail. With that, you may have to practise and be comfortable saying ‘no’.

In the following sections, you’ll focus on points two to six, as you’ve already taken some time to consider your leadership skills in Week 3.

Before you look in more detail at each issue, reflect on your own experience of these challenges.

Activity 2 Personal leadership challenges

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Reflect on your experiences of leadership challenge, either as the leader or as an observer. Choose one example from Gentry’s work to consider in more detail. Summarise the challenge/situation in the box below.

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Now answer these questions:

What actions did the leader take?

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What actions did others take?

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What was the outcome?

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Discussion

By reflecting on your own times of challenge or crisis and considering your actions, you can gain an insight into your own methods and assess whether you need to change them. Use your leadership journal to do this regularly.

If you were reflecting on the actions of a leader you observed, you can learn from their strengths and weaknesses and apply what you have learned to your own leadership practice either now or in the future.

Drawing from her experience of working with many high-profile leaders, from elected politicians to civic activists and other public and private sector professionals, Professor Jean Hartley shares her own impressions of common leadership challenges.

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In the next section, you’ll look more closely at building and leading an effective team – a key challenge for many leaders.

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